It is dark when we enter Andermatt. I can’t see much out the windows of the minivan we’ve driven from Zurich airport, but I feel like we’re in the mountains. Maybe it’s the winding curves of the alpine roads, or the cold, crisp air, or the looming, ominous shadows of the cliffs that surround us. The warmth surrounds me like a hug as we enter the hotel lobby. A fire flickers in the center of the room and the wooden decor gives this comfortable and cozy feeling that is a kind of safety net from the bitter winds swirling outside. Eyes heavy from a day’s travel, I go to my room and try to sleep well. Tomorrow will be big.
The story goes that in the early 2000s, Egyptian investor Samih Sawiris came to Andermatt and saw a wealth of opportunities in the beautiful and rugged mountain landscape. He had the vision to turn this hidden gem into a destination for tourists, while preserving the stunning natural beauty that makes the place, nestled in the Swiss Alps, so special. Sawiris intended to incorporate the traditional with the modern, the old with the new. Instead of changing Andermatt, he saw it as a place that could be elevated. Creating jobs and income for those who settled in the area, Sawiris built a number of luxury hotels and apartments, and Andermatt is also home to a concert hall and swimming pool. Importantly, Andermatt was developed with sustainable tourism in mind, with careful management of noise and energy use, healthy cooperation with local businesses and a railway station that has links to all major cities, encouraging visitors to come to the area by public transport.
Alongside all this, perhaps the most obvious appeal of Andermatt and its Alpine-chic aesthetic, so harmoniously intertwined with the stunning backdrop of the snow-capped Alps, are the vastly varied areas surrounding it for practicing outdoor sports. winter As the frost sets in, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to ski and snowboard down the stunning slopes. There is a problem with this: the snow is not there all year round.
A solution to this is easily found, however, and it’s one I explored a lot during my time in Andermatt: the bicycle.
Weaving through the ski slopes are heavenly roads to explore on two wheels. Smooth, flowing asphalt and constant climbs surrounded by scenery that looks straight out of a postcard, descents that make you want to push your bike to the limit: the Swiss Alps are a playground for cyclists.
The choice of routes and climbs to conquer in the area are endless: the Furka Pass, the Nufenen Pass, the Göscheneralp Pass, the Oberalp Pass. If we had stayed longer, we would have done them all, but the weather forecast was risky in the days leading up to our bike trip, so we chose a Pass that seemed more endearing to us: the Gotthard. I had looked at pictures of its cobbled slopes, the stunning blue lake that sits quietly at the top, the towering mountains that surround it, and the endless switchbacks, but I wasn’t really prepared for the beauty of the climb when i saw her with my own eyes
We started the trip early, leaving the Radisson Blu Hotel in Andermatt at 8am to give ourselves as much daylight as possible. To my surprise, the fog fell heavily on the mountains, obscuring their peaks and creating a cold chill in the air. The scenery was stunning, but in a different way than I had imagined: it looked moody and bleak, but endearing. We wrapped ourselves in gloves and jackets and stuck our feet to the pedals, toes fighting the cold, legs tingling with excitement.
It wasn’t long before the trail started to steep and the climbing began. As we climbed towards the town of Hospental, the road was not steep, but the gradient was between five and 10 percent, a relentless wake-up call to our legs, still heavy from the fatigue of the journey. We continued until we reached the top, and the fog seemed to thicken with each pedal stroke. The roads were eerily quiet and we hadn’t seen any life apart from a few mountain sheep during the first hour of our bike ride.
These mountains are unpredictable and have character. In a way, this makes them dangerous, but it also gives them a mysterious quality, which humbles human beings by reminding us of the power of nature. After a few more miles through the fog, I felt a shaft of light hit the side of my face. The sun was peeking through the thick cloud and the fog was lifting. The very moment we reach the Lago della Piazza, that is, we begin to see the brilliant color of the water and the expansive mountains that surrounded us.
From here we descend into the town of Airolo, meeting up with our riding partners for the day, Dalany and Seb, who work for the clothing brand. ASOS. Both had ridden these roads before and were prepared for the gradients that the Gotthard pass was about to challenge us. Cappuccino and croissant in hand, we talked about the climb ahead, sharing stories of past bike rides, comparing kit options for the tricky weather that comes with riding in the deep mountains.
Airolo was the perfect starting point for our ascent of the Gotthard, it had small, narrow roads going up steep slopes, surrounded by quaint wooden buildings that were exactly what I would expect from a Swiss village. Other cyclists from the area also gathered there, and we gave them a kind gesture of solidarity: this climb was going to be tough.
He had had to choose his clothes carefully: at the end of the climb to Airolo, the sun was now beating down from clear skies, but he knew that the summit would be cold, and the descent down the other side would add to it. cold The weather meant I needed an outfit that was somewhere between a deep winter suit and a summer T-shirt and shorts, and the ASSOS UMA GT spring/autumn collection fits that bill.
The Stocking shoes they were light enough to mean I didn’t break a sweat while we were grinding up some steep inclines, but the brushed interior provided a necessary layer of insulation when I reached the top of the climb and when descending. Combined with the UMA GT spring/autumn jacket, which has a thin material in the arms for breathability, but a thicker midsection to protect my core, I felt like I had hit a sweet spot with my gear. The Spring/autumn gloves i UMA GT Clima jacket [a thin outer rain jacket and wind shell] I kept it in my pocket for emergencies and for when things cooled properly on long descents.
Mentally, I had prepared myself for a tough climb to the top of the Gotthard. I thought the cobbled surface might make it laborious and the distance of nearly 30km would be a big demand compared to the short, punchy climbs I was used to riding in South East London. But when we left, I found myself lost in the landscape, so enamored with the beauty around us that I barely had time to think about any pain in my legs. Conversation in our small group flowed, background music peaceful with the sound of nature – cars and motorbikes were few and far between on the way up, thanks in large part to the Gotthard Tunnel providing an alternative route for others road users.
We reached the top before I had a chance to comprehend the effort. The changes in the road had given me a chance to vary my technique and ensured that things didn’t get boring – I was out of the saddle on the steepest parts and back in because the road was straight again.
We felt a sense of accomplishment when we reached the top, rewarding ourselves with a Coke and pastry, as well as panoramic views of the surrounding area. I noticed gravel roads skirting the mountains themselves and made a mental note to return with flat tires one day. As expected, the temperature dropped quickly as the sweat we had built up during the climb dried and we bundled up in more layers as we chatted and met up with others at the top of the mountain. To a man packing his bags across Switzerland by bicycle from Germany, a group of teenagers on a school trip, the woman working behind the food truck making the cheese and sausage the area is known for.
I was sad to leave the iconic St. Gothard, but I knew there was a lot of fun still ahead of us: the descent. Going down the winding roads gave me a sense of freedom that is hard to find elsewhere: the cold air whipped my face and I concentrated on nailing the apex of the bends, gaining speed and braking. My bike, Argonaut’s new RM3 road model, was the perfect tool for the job. It responded well to every little movement I asked of it, making me feel comfortable and confident, with the perfect balance of stiffness and flexibility. It was light enough to get me up the hills, but really came into its own as the road descended.
Read the full Argonaut RM3 review
As we neared the end of the tour, we cycled through the old town of Andermatt, surrounded by proud Swiss flags waving in the breeze, brightly colored flower pots and ski chalets sitting in neat formation. We were in search of sustenance after our journey, which was approaching five hours, and found a pizzeria to replenish our stores. In the dappled sunlight, we reflected on a beautiful day of pedaling, drinking the local beer and feeling lucky to have experienced such a magnificent part of the world.
Later, after returning to the hotel for a shower, we dined at Restaurant Biselli in Andermatt, conveniently located in Piazza Gottardo. Homemade bread and chocolate, as well as pasta made with local ingredients, were the perfect end to our adventure.
Returning to the high-rises and gray landscapes of London the next day was a harsh reality, and as my mind wandered to my desk, I was transported back to the dreamland that is Andermatt and the Swiss Alps. When he closed his eyes he could almost feel the fresh mountain air, see the snowy peaks kissing the blue sky. I can see why Samih Sawiris fell in love with the area when he first visited so many years ago, and why he had the drive to encourage more people to discover Andermatt and the beauty of the Swiss Alps. All I have to do is plan when I can return, conquer a different pass, feel the freedom of the mountains again, explore more of a landscape that, fundamentally, is one of the best that nature has to offer.